Last weekend, I hosted a visiting high school student from the Elite Scholars China program. Their program brought over a bunch of prospective students from China to check out American colleges in a couple of different states, including Barnard and Columbia. The whole trip was definitely a great learning experience for them, but there's no doubt that we hosts learned a thing or two during the couple of hours we had to speak with them.
For my prospective student and many others, it was their very first time being in the United States. This brought up a very interesting and important point going forward: the only first-hand experience they'll have of the U.S. would be under the Trump presidency. We college student hosts, having already been here in the states for way longer than their visit and graced by the Obama administration, could not even begin to imagine what they were feeling. My student from China told my roommate and I how she felt about Trump. She mentioned that, back home at her school, they watched the debates against Hillary Clinton and promptly had to turn it off because they could not handle the unprofessional rhetoric of some answers. She said they're all confused and a bit scared by what's happened over the past months, and we as Americans shared in that confusion.
Has their view on us as humans of the United States changed drastically due to who our nation has elected as president? As we continued talking to our Chinese students, we were able to get more answers (but naturally, also raise more questions).
The four girls that we sat down to dinner with all still expressed interest in studying in the United States after high school. While they did have some personal desire to look into schools elsewhere, they were still conditioned to believe that going to college in America would open up a world of possibilities. They mentioned some factors that drew them to the states were the prospects of job opportunities and successful university academic programs. This made me wonder: how well are we providing this to international students? To immigrant students? To undocumented students? And how are we going to protect and ensure their right to a better education and life here in the United States?
Upon casually questioning my student more, I discovered something quite surprising in her answers on how she saw the American people. I asked her what she thought set the United States of America apart from China or anywhere else she has visited. She responded with this: "America is kind." She said that a lot of times back home and especially places she's been in Europe (she referred to Switzerland), people are indifferent. She recounts how they only seem concerned with themselves and that what she experienced here in America was different. My initial reaction, which I kept to myself of course, was "Oh honey, I don't think you've been here long enough. You have no idea." However, as I thought about it more, her statement about the difference in how everyone seems to act could definitely be valid.
We, as people living in America, are highly relational and highly social people. We thrive on making connections. We sympathize, discuss and share emotions, and concern ourselves with the feelings of others; in these past weeks, I've experienced this tremendously.
Of course we must take into account the fact that they've been across the country looking at college campuses and have been in school-centered communities for the most of their trip. I think that might say something important as well. What more can we do to present our nation in that kind caring light that my Chinese student saw during her time here? Should the actions and intentions of the U.S. people mimic those on college campuses (to which the visiting students were satisfied with)?
Speaking with a young, high school student from out of the country was definitely an eye-opening experience. I think these sort of relationships and perspectives are exactly what our country needs moving forward.